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U of T and health industry leaders urge investment in biomedical innovation – News@UofT

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As the world continues to grapple with COVID-19, the University of Toronto is joining with health and pharmaceutical industry leaders to stress the need for increased Canadian support of bio-innovation and bio-pharmaceutical research, development and infrastructure.

Christine Allen, U of T’s associate vice-president and vice-provost, strategic initiatives, recently joined executives from Pfizer Canada, Telus Health and Sun Life at a virtual summit hosted by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to discuss the importance of health technology and infrastructure in Canada.

Allen, an internationally recognized expert in the research and development of novel technologies for cancer detection and treatment, said growing the country’s capacity to produce life-saving treatments will require investing in a “pipeline of bio-medical innovations” and highly qualified personnel to support everything from scientific discovery to product development.

“We absolutely need investment in high-risk, high-reward research and pivotal studies that raise the readiness levels of new therapeutics and technologies that are emerging from academic institutions and hospital research institutes,” said Allen, who is also a professor at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy.

The event was held as Ottawa seeks input on boosting Canada’s biomanufacturing and life sciences ecosystem after COVID-19 exposed gaps in the country’s capacity to produce life-saving vaccines and drugs to meet Canadians’ needs in a pandemic.

 

Christine Allen, U of T’s associate vice-president and vice-provost, strategic initiatives, says growing the country’s capacity to produce life-saving treatments will require investing in a “pipeline of bio-medical innovations” (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

Allen stressed the role of research and innovation at universities like U of T, whose bio-innovation ecosystem is at the centre of the country’s largest hospital and life sciences cluster – a critical contributor to Canada’s health security.

Yet, public investment in health research has waned in recent years. Allen noted that Canada spent about two per cent of its GDP on research and development in 2004, but the figure has since fallen to about 1.5 per cent.

She said Canada’s universities, including U of T, are calling for a return to the level of R&D spending of two decades ago.

“We need policies that strengthen our biomedical and pharmaceutical industries in Canada and encourage and enable collaboration between academia, our strong hospital network and industry,” Allen said.

“This will foster innovation, close the translation and commercialization gaps in our country, create and retain IP and retain talent in our country.”

One area she said is in “dire” need of investment is Canada’s network of specialized research and bio-manufacturing facilities, including containment level three (CL3) labs that have supported critical research into COVID-19.

At U of T, a CL3 facility made it possible for Scott Gray-Owen, a professor of molecular genetics in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, to validate the findings of a Quebec company that makes a mask with an antimicrobial coating that can deactivate 99 per cent of the SARS-CoV-2 virus within minutes.

Scott Gray-Owen, a professor of molecular genetics in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, used a containment level three lab to validate a Quebec company’s findings that its coated mask can deactivate 99 per cent of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

Allen said Canada is lagging behind other countries and regions, including China and the European Union, that have built dozens of containment level three labs to respond to disease outbreaks.

In addition to universities’ role in supporting critical health research, they also train the health professionals who see to Canadians’ medical needs, Allen said. U of T, for example, graduates about 2,500 students in the health fields each year, and nearly a third of people working in the Ontario health sector have a U of T degree.

“I’m always inspired by our students and I have been particularly inspired during the pandemic,” she said, citing examples of students helping front-line workers with errands, contributing to COVID-19 research and volunteering to help at vaccination sites hosted on U of T’s campuses.

The speedy development of an effective COVID-19 vaccine last year by Pfizer and BioNTech offers lessons in the value of supporting research and collaboration across the biomedical sphere – and of taking risks, said fellow panelist Cole Winnow, president of Pfizer Canada.

“We invested $2 billion to scale up our manufacturing processes before we knew the efficacious and safety profile of the vaccine,” he said.

“So, taking those key risks and planning for success was critical [for] us to be able to deliver this vaccine in record time.”

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$364 Billion Investment Manager Invesco Files For Bitcoin ETF – Bitcoin Magazine

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Independent investment firm Invesco, which currently operates 233 ETFs in the U.S., quietly applied for a Bitcoin ETF on Thursday.

The filing for a Bitcoin Strategy ETF falls under the 40 Act, a notable move that follows public recommendations by SEC Chairman Gary Gensler. Gensler spoke of the potential paths to a Bitcoin ETF earlier this week, at the time stating that he believes the act “provides significant investor protections” and that it will be used to evaluate applications.

Invesco is the first firm to file after the preferences expressed by Gensler. Eric Balchunas, senior ETF analyst for Bloomberg noted on Twitter that it was a “rare 6am filing = rushed it out. Won’t be surprised if we see 5-10 of these by Friday night.”

Noted in bold on the filing is that “the Fund will not invest directly in bitcoin.” The fund’s strategy is to provide exposure to the bitcoin price largely through exchange-traded futures, and to a lesser extent, exchange traded products, and private investment trusts that hold bitcoin.

The ETF would largely provide price exposure to bitcoin futures, Grayscale Bitcoin Trust, as well as several Canadian Bitcoin ETFs.

Invesco’s filing is just one among a series of funds seeking Bitcoin ETF approval in the United States. Notably, Goldman Sachs, Grayscale Bitcoin Trust, and Viridi Funds have all recently filed for or begun to offer investment vehicles tied to Bitcoin ETFs.

A Bitcoin ETF would give a massive boost to adoption, providing Bitcoin price exposure to millions of Americans.

If approved, the Invesco ETF is proposed to become effective 75 days after its filing. 

Image via Invesco website

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IGM posts record profit in second quarter – Investment Executive

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The firm also reported record-high investment fund sales of $1.9 billion for the quarter, more than doubling the $864-million total a year ago. Assets under management and advisement hit a new high of $262 billion, up 5.4% from the previous quarter and 39.2% from June 30, 2020.

“The result reflects record-high second-quarter client inflows across the companies and continued strong investment returns for our clients,” said IGM president and CEO James O’Sullivan in a statement.

The company’s wealth management business, which comprises IG Wealth Management and Investment Planning Counsel (IPC), reported a $134.3-million profit, up 33.6% from the previous year.

IG’s assets under advisement totalled $112.2 billion, up from $93.8 billion a year ago. IPC reported assets under advisement of $31.2 billion compared to $26.6 billion on June 30, 2020.

IG saw record client inflows of $670 million, compared to net outflows of $62 million a year ago.

Wealth management revenue for the quarter totalled $627.6 million, up from $531.1 million in 2020.

Asset manager Mackenzie Investments saw record investment fund sales of $1.7 billion for the quarter, up from $1.1 billion last year. Mutual fund sales accounted for $1.1 billion compared to $376 million in 2020.

Mackenzie reported mutual fund assets under management of $61.7 billion (up from $60.1 billion) and ETF assets totalling $4.9 billion (compared to $3.1 billion a year ago). If investments in ETFs by IGM mutual funds are included, ETF assets totalled $10.6 billion.

Asset management revenue for the quarter totalled $248.3 million, up from $190.8 million in 2020.

In an interview with Investment Executive last month, Mackenzie president and CEO Barry McInerney pegged alternatives and environmental, social and governance funds as growth areas for the firm.

He also talked about how Mackenzie is addressing the challenge of advisors shrinking their product shelves in response to the client-focused reforms.

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Federal government launches investment blitz to mark first #EVWeekinCanada – Electric Autonomy

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Cross-country investments focus on charging infrastructure, solutions for electric trucks, buses and residential buildings, and breaking down barriers to EV adoption

July was a significant month for government investment in cleantech and zero-emission transportation at the federal level. In all, four different program arms of Natural Resources Canada invested $32 million. The projects ranged from the installation of 853 electric vehicle chargers, to increasing public awareness of zero emission vehicles and improving progress to green transportation planning and infrastructure.

The announcements coincided with the Government of Canada’s declaration of #EVWeekinCanada, a coordinated effort at a policy level to bring awareness to the transition. Quebec, too, offered more government support with over $21 million invested in public charging initiatives through Hydro-Québec.

“EV Week in Canada is about promoting and highlighting the benefits of owning and driving Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV) in Canada,” wrote a spokesperson from Transport Canada in response to emailed questions from Electric Autonomy Canada about the initiative. “Transportation is the second largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada, accounting for a quarter of Canada’s total emissions. Decarbonizing the transportation sector will be essential to meeting Canada’s climate change commitments.”

The funding and programming blitz is a key indicator that the government is gearing up to push adoption and policy in the second half of the year — possibly against the backdrop of a federal election where EVs, reducing emissions and renewable energy could play a pivotal role.

Investment highlights

The menu of federal investments for July was wide-ranging:

  1. $4.95 million to Hydro One Ltd. in Ontario for heavy-duty electric truck charging station development.
  2. $2.5 million for the implementation of a smart charging platform for the Toronto Transit Commission’s electric bus fleet.
  3. $2 million to Opus One Solutions for a project to develop a shared economy model for EV chargers, focusing on residential EV charging impact on local power grids.
  4. $1.32 million to Alectra Inc. for the development of EV charging models for single-family and multi-unit residential buildings that provide affordable and easy access, while managing energy cost increases.
  5. $1.3 million for an enhanced SmartCharge Incentive system to Geotab Inc., with the goal of demonstrating price signals and optimal charge windows for owners of EVs.
  6. $635,000 to Blackstone Energy Services Inc. for a discharge energy system that encourages EV owners to send power back to the grid during peak demand periods. Blackstone are also to assist facility operators with offsetting their power use during such periods.
  7. $310,000 for Calgary and Edmonton to fund the installation of 44 EV chargers. The City of Calgary will partner with ENMAX Utilities and combine to contribute an additional $125,000 for the 20 chargers to be built at major light rail transit stations and recreational centres. Meanwhile, the City of Edmonton is collaborating with EPCOR Utilities to install 24 chargers at 13 different sites near busy recreational facilities.
  8. 170 EV chargers will be funded by $800,000 in British Columbia, which includes 168 Level 2 EV connectors and two fast chargers over the province. The chargers will be ready for use by the public come this winter.
  9. An additional $1.2 million will fund cities across the province to install 98 more EV chargers. 7-Eleven Inc. is one of the businesses that will benefit, as they plan to install six fast chargers at its stores in Vancouver, Langley, Abbotsford, Kamloops, Kelowna and Victoria.
  10. Finally, through a combination of federal and provincial funding, Quebec will see 215 new EV fast chargers installed by December 2022 due to a $9.4-million investment to Hydro-Québec, which is also contributing more than $10 million to the initiative. A related investment of over $3 million is also going to the utility to tackle barriers to EV adoption.

Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan Jr. said in the press release announcing the initiatives, “We’re giving Canadians the greener options they want to get to where they need to go. We’re building a coast-to-coast network of electric vehicle charging stations from St. John’s to Victoria. This is how we get to net zero by 2050.”

Investing in future challenges

One of the unique elements of the funding announcements is the commitment to heavy-duty electric truck charging. It’s one of the first major federal signals it is anticipating a swift transition with a need for significant infrastructure.

In Ontario, and like other utilities, Hydro One has a massive task ahead of it: charging large batteries that long-haul trucks need in order to become fully-electric. It will also have to account for the need to do so in a quick and efficient manner, while still managing the demand on the grid.

The federal investment of nearly $5 million will help fund charging solutions to yield greater carbon reductions in the commercial transport sector.

Hydro One senior vice-president, strategy and growth Jason Rakochy said of the electric truck charging station model, “We’re integrating sustainability practices into all aspects of our business as part of our vision for a better and brighter future by developing innovative solutions such as our electric heavy-duty vehicle pilot to help achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.”

Similarly, local grid demand will also have to be accounted for by Opus One Solutions as it investigates residential EV charging using $2 million in public funds.

Opus One’s mission is to build out smart grids in order to manage charging loads from public adoption of EVs. Using grid management software, the company is aiming to create harmony between grid battery storage, renewable energy and vehicle-to-grid draw-and-storage capabilities. Opus One emphasizes energy planning and off-peak charging to help balance the grid in an EV-centric future.

That’s where the investment in Geotab’s SmartCharge Incentive system — a program tied to Geotab Energy, launched in early 2021 — comes in.

Geotab Energy “arms utilities and electric vehicle owners with advanced electricity demand-management solutions” according to company materials. The mission is to determine how best to communicate off-peak price signals to EV drivers, whether it be through the property owner of the charging station, workplace or the homeowner.

While figuring out the times when both the price and demand on the grid are lower isn’t materially different from Time of Use (TOU) patterns that exist with current electricity plans, grid conditions do change. This makes communication “to bridge sustainable transportation with sustainable energy” all the more important, says the company.

Geotab Energy is primarily focussed on facilitating more efficient and fast communication between utilities and their customers and it has developed a SmartCharge Reward program to incentivize EV drivers to charge at beneficial times for the utilities.

Knocking down barriers

In order to tackle obstacles to EV adoption, the combined government investment in Hydro-Québec will allow the public utility to test ultra-fast new-generation charging stations. The goal is to assess technologies from different manufacturers under real-world conditions. Critical information will be collected and the utility will learn more about the strength of the power grid’s infrastructure.

“[W]e deployed our 500th rapid-charging station, and we are moving toward more than 2,500 rapid-charging stations by 2030 so that electric vehicle drivers can travel with peace of mind throughout Quebec,” said France Lampron, director of transportation electrification at Hydro-Québec in a press release.

So far and in total, Canada has invested over $1 billion in EV incentives and infrastructure as the country pushes toward 100 per cent new EV sales by 2035.

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